In the Independent Review into the application of Sharia Law in England and Wales, published in February 2018, it was acknowledged that Sharia Councils cannot celebrate legally binding marriages. This is unlike the position for other faiths, such as Christianity and Judaism, which do not have this “double ceremony” requirement. But those following these faiths may want to have a religious divorce (for example a get for Jewish people) which is not the same as a court ordered divorce.
Over 90% of those approaching Sharia Councils about divorce are women, who are particularly disadvantaged if their relationship breaks down, due to their financially inferior position. An Islamic divorce is like an Islamic marriage – not recognised by the court for the purposes of the claims that arise on divorce from a legally valid marriage.
The laws about whether a marriage is valid or void were first made in 1949, just after the Second World War, at a time when the Muslim population of this country was far smaller than it is now. Part of the reason for the Independent Review was to look at and make recommendations for bringing the regulation of marriages up to date for Muslims. The recommendation is that all Islamic marriages should be linked to civil registration and that it is the role of the Imam to make this happen.
Hazel Wright, partner at Hunters Solicitors, commented:
“The law on cohabitation in this country is out of date and unsatisfactory. Now those who would have been outside the scope of the law to help them can seek compensation in the courts if their spouse has deliberately refused to have a civil ceremony after a religious ceremony.
“Ms Akhtar and Mr Khan both knew that their Sharia marriage was not a legally registered marriage. It became vital for Ms Akhtar that the English divorce court rule in her favour, that the marriage should be recognised as void, and not a non-marriage. Otherwise she would not have any rights to make any financial claims for herself.
“The ruling that this marriage was just like a marriage for the couple, their families and friends, and indeed it satisfied the UAE authorities, and so was a void marriage has given heart to many who otherwise suffer discrimination.
“An Independent Review into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales, published in February 2018 and commissioned by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, calls for a regime of public education about the legal status of Sharia law. Sadly, it is quite likely that, as with the defusing of the idea of “common law marriage” (which is and can only ever be cohabitation), this won’t be enough.”
Read the full article in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent (also syndicated in Yahoo! News here), the Daily Express, Family Law Week and Scottish Legal News.